Green River hoops star putting up big numbers

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GREEN RIVER - The game of basketball means everything to Justin Johnson.

"To me it's life," Justin says. "I love it. Playing ball every day is so much fun."

Justin is from Green River, Utah - population 973. He dreams of playing basketball at the next level but it's hard to get the exposure you need growing up in a small town in Eastern Utah.

"Before the season started they (the media) were mentioning all these 4A and 5A kids and how they were going to be the top in the state." Justin remembers.

"When I was reading that I was, like, I want to be one of the top contenders in the state and one of the best basketball players."

It's easy for a kid like Justin to get overlooked but thanks to his impressive scoring numbers people are starting to take notice.

He leads the state of Utah in scoring at 35-points per game. In one game he scored 45 points and pulled down 37 rebounds. He has reached 40 points in seven games and twice this season he scored 50+ points and he did it on back-to-back nights.

"The guys just kept feeding me the ball." Justin says.

This is not a case of a kid six inches taller than his opponents parking under the basket making layup after layup. Justin is an excellent three-point shooter with a great handle who can run the floor and finish strong at the rim. He has guard skills to go with his 6-6 frame and can pass just as well as he can shoot.

He maintains a 4.0 GPA and pitched a no-hitter during baseball season. His coaches and teammates rave about his leadership and humility.

"He's a good leader," says Justin's teammate Erick Mendez. "When he's having a good night everybody else has a good night."

"He autographs basketballs in about every gym we go to," says Green River head coach Tom Hughes. "Kids love him. Everyone loves him."

He has already become a basketball legend in this small town located 75 miles west of the Utah/Colorado border.

The legend grew just an hour before tip-off of their recent game against Pinnacle. Justin was warming up in an auxiliary gym when he broke a backboard after dunking the basketball. Teammates and members of the student body quickly gathered to capture photos of the shattered glass with their smartphones.

"All the guys were, like, Oh Justin go dunk one. The backboard just shattered. I thought it was water. I couldn't believe it I was just sitting there like whoa, I didn't do that did I?"

There are many who are skeptical of Justin's talents because his team plays 1A basketball. He isn't facing other college prospects every Friday night. Justin is aware of the skepticism and would love to get a chance to prove them wrong.

"Playing in college ball has been my dream ever since I can remember." He says. "I love this game and I want to take it to the next level."

His coach believes he can play at the next level and encourages college coaches to come to Green River where they may discover a diamond in the rough.

"I hope some bigger schools start taking a look at him." His coach says. "He deserves it. He's a great ball player."

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Jeremiah Jensen


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